Technology is both a blessing and a curse. I was cursed the other day when I was at my desktop computer and the screen started flashing and an annoying voice kept screaming that my computer had been attacked by a trojan virus. The voice was loud and scary and kept repeating its warning not to turn off the computer, but to immediately call an 800 number that was continuously flashing. The screen displayed the standard Microsoft logo, and the flashing message was saying that the 800 number would connect me directly with Microsoft support and tell me what to do. I couldn’t x-out the message and I couldn’t turn off the voice or reduce the volume. It was like nightmares I’ve had. But I knew it was a scam. A while back, when I was visiting my brother in Ohio, the same thing happened to him. He ended up calling the number on the screen and the voice on the other end said he’d have to pay a lot to end the nightmare. I convinced him not to, but it took a long time to get his computer back to normal operation. Knowing I was experiencing another scam, I had to think what I should do next. Foolishly I tried to find a real Microsoft support telephone number. That was a futile effort. All I was directed to do was to send an email, but of course I couldn’t do that on my desktop because it was locked up. As my mind kept spinning I landed on calling HP support, since I had an HP desktop. I had used this support service before and had found it helpful. I thought the small fee I paid for the support back then was worth it. It took me a while to find the correct internet site, because I had to scroll down on my phone past all the fake ads that claimed to offer legitimate HP support but were different companies. Seven sites down was the actual HP site with a number to call. This is where my luck changed. When I called, a nice guy named Ahmed answered, and he was willing to hang with me as long as it took to resolve the problem. Later, in talking with him during the next two hours, I found that he worked in Mumbai, India, where he was experiencing the monsoon season. (You can find out a lot about a person in two hours.) Ahmed patiently walked me through a long, complicated process. He immediately said that what I was experiencing was indeed a scam, and that he has been dealing with a lot of similar scams lately. Step one was to turn off the computer, wait a couple of minutes and then turn it back on. When I did, the computer seemed to be back to normal, but Ahmed said that it was necessary to do a complete scan of the computer to see if the scam site had already infected my desktop and to find out how the site had gotten into my computer in the first place. I agreed to pay a fee of $51 for the service, and it would be good for the next 30 days, if something recurred. That was better than paying a blackmailer $200 or $500 or whatever they would demand that I pay. After I turned the computer back on, Ahmed said the next step would be for him to operate it remotely. Here again, it was a matter of trust. Letting the wrong person take over my computer would be a disaster. But I had allowed HP to do this in the past to solve another smaller problem I had encountered, and all went well then. Ahmed proceeded to check if the scam site was still secretly still in my computer. After a while he said that we had apparently caught it before it had settled in. Then he wanted to find out how the site got into my computer in the first place to give its blaring, annoying message. He asked me what was the last thing I had done before the flashing message came on my screen. Then it dawned on me. “Darn Amazon,” I said under my breath. As much as I hate to use Amazon, sometimes I feel forced to use it, if I can’t get some product locally, like the only healthy treats my dogs will eat. Ahmed hypothesized that in trying to click on Amazon, I had clicked on a fake Amazon site, with crooks just waiting for me to do this. I was sure I had not done this, but oh, well. (More on this issue later.) Ahmed continued to go through his processes. He used several free sites in the process, including Malwarebytes and Ghostery, to make sure everything was checked. As he was going through all this, I asked him why the security software company I paid a monthly fee to didn’t catch this. Ahmed did some more digging and found that somehow on my security site the box for checking my browser activity had been turned off. How that happened, who knows? Finally, two hours after I started talking with Ahmed, he had completed the process and told me my computer was safe and good to go, as it had been before the scam. I thanked him and told him we had had such a long conversation, I considered him a member of the family. Later, in talking with a friend who had worked at store that dealt with computer issues, she told me that I probably had clicked on the correct Amazon site, but I had encountered one of the “trip wires” on the internet— hidden by crooks, like mines, in a minefield. It took me a while to feel safe again using my computer. In a small way I felt violated. But after a day or two I was back to (almost) normal. I hope this column can serve as a warning to anyone who uses a computer. Beware of scary, flashing and blaring lockdowns. Don’t succumb and call the number on your screen. Call some company you can trust and hope that you get someone like Ahmed on the other end.